This week I would like to finish our look at the question, “Who Is Packing Your Parachute?”  Last week we spoke about this question of parachute packing through the lens of God’s love shown to us and for us in the person of Jesus.  We saw that God’s love was the very atmosphere that gives rise to life now and for all times.  We also saw that our response to God’s love for us was that we should love one another. This week, I would like us to go the next step and understand how we can love one another in a practical sense. How do we pack each other’s parachute?

          I was thinking about this subject of parachute packing the other day and I began recalling some activities of my childhood.  I was a child of the 1960’s and early 1970’s when space exploration and sending a man to the moon was very much a national interest.  Because of that, all the kids in my neighborhood got into model rocketry. We would purchase these kits in which you had to assemble your rocket, install solid fuel rocket engines, ignite the engines, and  launch the rockets skyward.  I must also admit that some of those rockets went more horizontal than vertical when a wing or two fell off after launch.  Some of the simpler rockets had a single engine.  Other more complicated rockets had a couple of stages with engines for each stage.  The more complex rockets had a payload bay where you could launch an item skyward with your rocket.  We learned quickly that earthworms do not do well with the G-forces of the rocket engine. The more complex rockets also required parachutes to deploy and safely guide your rocket back to earth to be used again.  You needed to pack that parachute correctly with talcum powder so that the parachute would open, and you had to ensure that the strings connecting the chute to the rocket were not tangled.  I remember how the older kids willingly helped the younger to get the parachutes properly packed. 

In this context, the older kids were encouragers of the younger kids.  The older kids were encouragers in three important way.  First, the older kids were not indifferent to the struggles of the younger kids.  Second, the older kids wanted the younger kids to learn what they had learned themselves. Third, the older kids shared in the joy when the rockets, including the parachutes, of the younger kids worked well. 

I thought looking back on these days, that if kids playing with rockets could be encouragers of one another, how much more valuable would it be if we each became encouragers of one another in the great matters of faith. I think to be an encourager should be our focus today in packing the spiritual parachutes of another.

Let’s look at that thought about encouragement from our Scripture reading today.  We read earlier from Paul’s first letter to the church at Thessalonica.  That letter we call 1 Thessalonians.  Scholars believe that in the entirety of the New Testament, 1 Thessalonians is the earliest of the Christian writings and was probably written around AD 50. 

Our passage today began with Paul expressing that believers are different from the world.  Paul described believers as being awake and living in the light and describe nonbelievers as being asleep and living in darkness.  Paul said, “5 You (Believers in Thessalonica) are all children of the light and children of the day. We (Believers) do not belong to the night or to the darkness. 6 So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night” (1 Thessalonians 5:5-7). Paul was dividing the world into just two types of people: believers and nonbelievers.  Believers are people who live in the light of day and are awake to the realities of this world and the next world.  Believers are sober.  Believers have a serious mind and convictions.  Believers are different from the rest of the world, the nonbelievers, who have not accepted the light offered by God.  Nonbelievers, Paul said act as though they are asleep, seemingly unaware of all that is going on around them.  That differentiation between believers and nonbelievers as light and darkness is an often repeated theme in Scripture. 

Paul continued, “8 But since we (believers) belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. 9 For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10 He (Jesus) died for us (believers) so that, whether we are [physically] awake or asleep, we may live together with him [Jesus]” (1 Thessalonians 5:8-10).  Paul said to the believer, put on faith and love as a breastplate and salvation as though it was a helmet.  Paul was calling for believers to see faith, love, and salvation as spiritual armor, that they had received from God that would keep them safe and alive in Christ.  With such armor there was nothing to fear.  Everything vital had been covered and protected.

Because Jesus covers us, Paul said we should, “11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11a).  What does it mean to encourage and build up someone else?  If Jesus has covered the essentials, why do believers need encouragement?  Let’s dispense with the latter question first.  Why do believers need encouragement and being built up in the faith? It is simple.  The world is hostile toward believers and believers still experience all the trials of living in this world.  We still get ill.  We still have loved ones who die.  We still have disappointments.  We are still subject to abuse and neglect.  We still need encouragement.

In the New Testament, the call to encourage believers is made no fewer than 38 times.  In the first letter of the Christian Church, 1 Thessalonians Paul said, 

  • We sent Timothy, who is our brother and co-worker in God’s service in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith (3:2)
  • Encourage one another with words of faith (4:18)
  • Encourage the disheartened (5:14)

Borrowing from my story of childhood rocketry, the older kids helped the younger because they were not indifferent to the struggles of the younger. The same is true when we encouragement is offered to another.  To offer encouragement is the truest sign that we are not indifferent to the struggles of another.  To offer encouragement means that you are willing to discharge today’s societal response of “whatever” and instead to step into another person’s life, not to take it over, but to help them lift themselves up.

          In the Old Testament Book of Ecclesiastes, Chapter 4, we hear the wisdom, “9 Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: 10 If either of them falls down, one can help the other up” (4:9).  Having people come into our life to encourage us with a hand up, an encouraging word, time together to complete a task, are all sources of encouragement and says to the receiver, “You matter.”

          The writer of the New Testament Book of Hebrews, some believe it was Paul, said, “24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25).  I am not sure if we fully appreciate the significance of church attendance to the encouragement of one another.  To attend church is a way of us saying we are not indifferent.  We are not indifferent to our relationship with God, and we are not indifferent to our relationship with one another.  Without fail, someone after the Easter Sunday or Christmas Eve service will say to me, “Wasn’t wonderful to see so many people in church today?  Wouldn’t it be nice if it was like that every Sunday?”  What these folks have come to realize is that greater church attendance on Easter Sunday and Christmas Eve leads to a feeling of greater encouragement.  Attendance at church matters because people are encouraged in their own relationship with God, and they know brothers and sisters are not indifferent to their struggles.

Paul said we should, “11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11a). 

Drawing again from my childhood rocketry example, the older kids helped the younger learn what they did not know on their own.  We see the same charge on us in Scripture.  Again, the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Ephesians said, “11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity i the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-13).  Paul’s point was the entirety of church has been equipped to continually bring people along in their faith so that each one of us learns and experiences what we had not known about God.  And by know, I don’t mean to say that we have more head knowledge alone but that what we discover what effects our heart and soul.  That in knowing God we can be a peace with God, ourselves, and with others.

          The Apostle Peter said that such peace and knowledge of God becomes evident to others who we meet and with whom we work.  People will ask about the spirit we present.  Peter said because this is so, “15 Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15).

          We are each called to encourage one another in the development of our faith so that we can be built up in the maturity of our faith.  Paul said that when we encourage one another in this manner, “14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Ephesians 4:14-16). We should share what we know and what we have experienced in Bible studies.  We should share Christian music that has meaning to us.  We should share to encourage one another thoughts and reflections from devotionals, Christian movies, Christian plays, spiritual retreats, worship services, and the list goes on.  When we do such things, we are packing the spiritual parachute of another.

          This brings us to our final point.  When we become an encourager, we can rejoice together. While Paul encouraged us toward being of a sober mind, that is serious about matters of faith, Paul also encouraged us to rejoice together.  Paul understood that there was a relationship between encouragement and rejoicing.  The older kids understood that principle in helping the younger kids with rocketry.  We know the truth between encouragement and rejoicing.  Consider two simple examples.  In your job, your boss says, “We really like the work you are doing and so we are giving you a promotion.”  What do we do in response?  We might say to our friends, “Hey, let’s go celebrate, I got a promotion.” We get it.  Encouragement leads to joy.  Consider the alternative scenario.  In your job, your boss says, “We really do not like the work you are doing and so we are going to demote you.”  How many of us then say to our friends, “Hey, let’s go celebrate. I got a demotion!”  We do not say such things because we know that encouragement is directly linked to rejoicing.

Thirty-one (31) times in the New Testament, we are encouraged to rejoice.  Fifteen (15) of those times come from Paul.  Paul said, 

  • Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. (Romans 12:15)
  • Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you. (2 Corinthians 13:11)
  • Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! (Philippians 4:4)

From the very first Christian letter, 1 Thessalonians, Paul also said, “14bEncourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone.” “16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).  As we saw that church attendance is directly related to a sense of encouragement, we also see that encouragement in our faith is directly related to our capacity and desire to rejoice.

          Encouragement from and to one another packs our respective spiritual parachutes. Let us be encouragers and not be indifferent to each other’s struggles.  When we meet a disagreeable person, what have we been taught?  “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything.”  This advice came from Thumper in the Bambi movie.  How about we do something more Biblical.  “If you don’t have anything nice to say, offer a word or two of encouragement.”  A word or two of encourage says, even to a grumpy person, “I am not indifferent to your struggles.”

Let us be encouragers and build each other up in the faith.  We all have something to offer one another.  Let us be encouragers and together rejoice in what the Lord is doing among us and through us.  It is a marvelous thing.  Let us pack each other’s spiritual parachutes.  Encourage and rejoice!  Amen and Amen.